• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG


Aug 18, 2023, 1:32pm EDT
politics

Republicans are catching impeachment fever

ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
TweetEmailWhatsapp

Sign up for Semafor Americana: An insider’s guide to American power. Read it now.

Title icon

The Scene

DES MOINES – They had come to hear Donald Trump, who finished his brief Iowa State Fair swing with a mini-rally at the Steer n’ Stein. But the Republican crowd cheered just as loud for Rep. Greg Steube, a third-termer from southwest Florida who’d come with big news.

“Yesterday, I filed impeachment articles against Joe Biden,” said Steube, standing next to Trump in matching MAGA hats. “How many of you think we should impeach Joe Biden?”

Encouraged by their base, and outraged by the criminal investigations into the 45th president, the right flank of the House GOP is trying to build momentum for a Biden impeachment. They’ve gotten asked about it at town halls, brought it up in conservative media hits, and been urged to act quickly by an array of movement leaders.

AD

“Joe Biden is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, warranting the opening of an impeachment inquiry,” read an open letter from the Conservative Action Project, released Wednesday; David Bossie, chair of the RNC’s debate committee, was among the activists who signed. “There has never been a more corrupt occupant of the White House than the sitting President of the United States.”

Impeachment’s advocates don’t have the 218 votes needed to back up the threat, or the total buy-in of party leaders. Instead, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told his conference shortly before the start of the summer recess that an “impeachment inquiry”— the formal investigative process that typically precedes an impeachment vote — was possible, if more evidence justified it, as the House Oversight Committee probed whether money paid to the president’s son and brother before he was president made it to him.

That put a lid on the conversation as members headed home. But the impeachment chatter picked up, powered by memos from the Oversight Committee and anger at what was happening to Trump. On Wednesday, at a town hall meeting in his north Texas district, Rep. Pat Fallon told constituents that he supported an impeachment inquiry and that “we should have done that already.”

AD

Impeachment was the first topic Fallon was asked about; on a recording of the event, one attendee can be heard shouting “What’s McCarthy waiting for?” Fallon walked the crowd through an FBI informant’s claim that Burisma Holdings owner Mykola Zlochevsky admitted bribing two members of the Biden family, suggesting that further revelations could remove the president from office.

“If Zlochevsky comes forward with either of those things — recordings, or the route to how he got the money — we’ve got impeachment, conviction, removal, and god forbid, not that I’m rooting for this, but we’re going to say three words: President Kamala Harris,” said Fallon. “I’m not rooting for that, but we have a constitutional duty to investigate.”

The same day, in an interview with San Diego’s KUSI-TV, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds presented an impeachment inquiry as a post-recess inevitability.

AD

“We’re going to go through an investigative process, I believe, in the Judiciary Committee, through an impeachment inquiry,” said Donalds, who endorsed Trump in April — days after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted him. “There’s going to be several hearings on that. And then, if the evidence speaks for itself, there’ll be impeachment articles brought to the floor.”

That decision’s up to the House Republican’s leadership (on conference call this week, McCarthy said he anticipated “some serious family discussions on our next steps forward when we return in September.”) But as he campaigned for Trump at the fair, Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt said that it was time to escalate the Biden probe.

“I think there’s a lot there that warrants it — whether you call it an impeachment inquiry or further investigation, whatever you want to call it,” said Schmitt. “I think this testimony needs to be out in the open, out in public. And the American people deserve to know whether or not the President’s a crook.”

Title icon

David’s view

The journey from impeachment as a “kook” obsession to reality is shorter than it used to be. Republicans put the onus for that on Democrats, who ignored their insistence that removing a president meant defying the will of the voters who elected him.

“I blame this impeachment craze on the Democrats,” House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer told Raw Story late last month. “A lot of voters feel like, well they impeached Trump twice, and we should impeach Biden. And again, that’s irresponsibility on the Democrats’ side.”

It helps that both parties learned, in the Trump years, that impeachment doesn’t lead to removal of a president. Democrats, in both 2019 and 2021, saw Trump as so uniquely dangerous that he needed to be barred from the presidency. But progressive activists who spent millions of Tom Steyer’s dollars on a “Need to Impeach” campaign got a vote, then trial, with a single Republican defection, and — pre-Covid — a re-energized Trump talking about his vindication. Even after Jan. 6, Democrats could only lure a handful of GOP Senators to their side.

That’s transformed impeachment into just another tool to try and win the news cycle. With some exceptions like Fallon, pro-impeachment Republicans mostly seem to think Biden is a crooked joke, rather than an imminent danger to the Republic, and this is the best way to educate the people who don’t know it. That’s grown more intense over the recess, as Oversight’s memos and subpoenas, like one this week asking for any communications that used “Robert L. Peters” as a pseudonym for the president, get lost in the Trump drama.

“The purpose of that impeachment, from my standpoint, is not to force a vote that loses,” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said on a Wednesday Twitter Space organized by Tea Party Patriots. (The group’s CEO, Jenny Beth Martin also signed the movement letter endorsing impeachment.) “It’s to put on a trial in the Senate… it will not result in a conviction, but the true verdict can still be rendered by the American people.”

Title icon

The View From Democrats

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, said that Republicans were charging ahead based on “debunked conspiracy theories,” all to serve a “twice-impeached and disgraced enemy of the Constitution now facing 91 serious criminal charges.”

“The constitutional predicate for impeachment is treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” Raskin told Semafor in a statement. “House Republicans have admitted themselves they have no evidence of any wrongdoing by President Biden, much less evidence of an impeachable offense. The purpose of this colossal waste of taxpayer dollars and Congressional time would be to try and establish a false equivalency between Biden and Donald Trump.”

Title icon

Notable

  • Steube’s four articles were posted right before he touted them to the Trump crowd. All of them focus on actions made before Biden became president; one article, focused on the FBI’s interactions with the 2020 Biden campaign and transition team, suggests there was an “abuse of power” by a candidate who had yet to take it.
Semafor Logo
AD